Could a disrupted sleep also disturb your gut?

If you have trouble sleeping or your sleep pattern is disrupted, you may be surprised to learn that the bacterial colonies in your gut are also being disturbed. Shift work has long been associated with obesity and other metabolic diseases like Type 2 diabetes. Dr Amy Reynolds, a post-doctoral researcher at Central Queensland University, said research in the field indicated gut microbiota may hold the key to these poor health outcomes. Preliminary results from her research suggest that gut microbiota may have their own circadian rhythm, married to the sleep cycle. “Some of those microbes in the gut actually display their own circadian rhythm, so they peak and decline at specific times of the day,” she said. “When you consider that shift work is doing things at different times of the normal biological day, the potential for that interaction is something that we’re really wanting to get at.” What’s going on in the gut? The majority of the research done on the relationship between sleep and the gut has been performed on mice and rats. A recent study published in Nature found that when mice do not get enough sleep, or no sleep at all, they experience negative changes to their gut bacteria. Dr Reynolds said the sleep-deprived mice had an overgrowth of “bad” bacteria, and bacteria found growing outside the gut. “What that suggested is that when mice don’t get enough sleep that the balance of bacteria in the gut is changed and the richness of bacteria that lives in that gut is changed,” said Dr Reynolds. “This results in the lining of the gut not being as preserved or intact to protect against ‘bad’ bacteria getting out into the body.” The mice also tended to eat more and displayed signs of inflammation. “We’re really seeing in those mice a profound physiological response that is not promoting healthy wellbeing,” she said. Sleep makes a difference Dr Reynolds recently led one of the first human studies into sleep deprivation and its impact on gut microbiota. Participants in the study stayed awake for 63 hours, essentially missing two nights of sleep. Activity in their gut microbiota was then compared to when they had slept from 11:00pm to 7:00am. The results from the study are yet to be published, but preliminary findings showed a difference in the participants’ gut microbiota between when they were sleep-deprived and when they were well-slept. But Dr Reynolds said there was a huge variance of the make-up of gut microbiota in humans, so a larger group of participants would be required to get clear results. The research is also relevant to those suffering gut health problems, as Dr Reynolds explained that there is likely to be a bidirectional relationship. “Sleep may well affect the microbiota but also in the other direction, that those microbiota might have an impact on sleep quality,” she said. Dr Reynolds said her research could have huge benefits for those living with disturbed sleep patterns. “A huge percentage of the population are working shift work and they’re not the only ones experiencing disrupted sleep, when you think about new parents, people working long hours, our emergency services workers,” she said. “We’ve got lots of people in society who support us by working 24/7, so to help them through that process and maybe find some new health opportunities or therapeutic opportunities to help them support their health outcomes is really important.”

ABC News, 1 November 2016 ; ;